WorkCover Queensland has engaged Monash University and the University of Illinois to undertake research on how to best support workers with silicosis, the state government has announced.
Professor Malcolm Sim from Monash University and Professor Bob Cohen will look at the treatment, rehabilitation and retraining options that are available to improve workers’ capacity to work.
They will also research the mental health impact and issues preventing return to work, as well as investigating whether return to work environments are safe to protect workers’ long-term health.
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said both teams would “bring extensive experience in the management of dust diseases and best practice return to work.”
Silicosis is an aggressive form of pneumoconiosis, a debilitating respiratory disease, which is often fatal. The progressive and irreversible disease is contracted when tiny particles of silica dust are breathed in and settles in the lungs.
In late 2018, the QLD Government issued an urgent warning to the stone bench-top industry after 22 workers’ compensation claims for silicosis were filed in a three week period (see related article).
And earlier this year, an audit of QLD’s manufacturing stone industry revealed 98 workers had contracted silicosis — of which 15 were terminal— with more than 550 workplace breaches in a four-month period.
Dr Graeme Edwards, a Brisbane physician who has tested hundreds of stone workers as part of the audit, warned the situation was a ‘national epidemic’ that would result in a health crisis worse than asbestosis (see related article).
But now, Ms Grace says QLD is ‘leading the nation’ in responding to the threat of silicosis.
“In September 2018 when the government received advice on the troubling spike in cases of silicosis in the engineered stone benchtop fabrication industry, it acted immediately, issuing a public alert about the risks of engineered stone and reminded industry of the prohibition on uncontrolled dry cutting of this stone.”
“Since then, audits have been conducted on all known engineered stone benchtop fabricators in Queensland, health screening has been arranged for 1023 workers and forums for workers, employers and the medical community have been held and counselling has been arranged workers and their families.”
“We have also established an expert medical working group to develop clinical guidance and an Australian-first Dust Lung Disease register, and a new Code of Practice is close to finalisation.”
WorkCover CEO Bruce Watson said the research would be published to ensure all workers’ compensation schemes would benefit from greater knowledge about best practice strategies to support workers.
“WorkCover Queensland is committed to providing the best possible support to Queensland workers who are diagnosed with dust diseases and is now supporting more than 168 workers who have been diagnosed with silicosis or progressive massive fibrosis.”
“This research will help continue to improve the support we provide, based on the latest research about best practice strategies.”